NLRB wants Evergreen union talks

NLRB wants Evergreen union talks

The National Labor Relations Board will ask a federal court to order Evergreen America to bargain with the International Longshoremen's Association on a contract for the company's New Jersey office staff while the NLRB reviews the workers' disputed vote against unionization.

The ILA wants the NLRB to throw out a 2002 referendum in which the Evergreen employees voted 61-52 against union representation. The ILA contended the vote was tainted by illegal company coercion.

Responding to the ILA's petition, the NLRB's district office issued a complaint seeking to force the company to halt the allegedly illegal activities and to have the ILA declared the workers' bargaining agent without another election. About 125 workers are affected.

That case will be heard by an NLRB administrative law judge who will make a recommendation to the agency's board in Washington. Because that process is expected to be lengthy, the NLRB said it will ask the court to issue an injunction ordering Evergreen to bargain while the agency completes its work. Such requested injunctions are fairly unusual. The NLRB's New Jersey district office says it sought only two or three last year.

Evergreen said in a written statement that it "believes that the possible action by the NLRB is without legal precedent." The company said it has acted legally and that it expects its actions and its employees' vote against unionization to be upheld.

The company said, however, that it "will respectfully abide by the court's decision and, if ordered, will engage in collective bargaining in good faith" to ensure that its services are not interrupted.

The development in the ILA's effort to organize Evergreen America's office workers came as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments Thursday in a separate dispute over ILA representation of the company's port captains.

In the port captains' case, the NLRB rejected the company's contention that the workers were managers who were ineligible for unionization. The company refused to bargain with the ILA, a tactic that was necessary to send the case to court. The port captains then went on strike, idling Evergreen ships in East Coast ports for 28 days last summer. The strike ended when the company agreed to bargain and sign a contract that was subject to the appeals court's ruling on whether the workers are managers.

In oral arguments Thursday, Steven M. Swirsky, representing Evergreen, said the NLRB erred when it ruled that the five workers were non-managerial employees. NLRB attorney Ruth E. Burdick said Evergreen had shown no evidence that the five were managers. A court decision in the case is not expected for at least a month.